“They cannot forbear crying out”
: A critical study of travailing prayer as a pattern of preparedness for revival, examining it historically in the theology and practice of Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney

  • David R Thomas

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


While prayer has been commonly considered antecedent to and initiatory of revival, little historical analysis has been given to the correlation between them. And while strenuous intercession is an important prayer genre in Church history, one recurring in its association with Christian revival, much that has been written about it has been of a devotional or hortatory nature. This project examines, inductively and critically, a manner of praying advocated by two seminal leaders in American history—Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney—seeking to understand a pattern of “travailing prayer” as preparedness for revival.

Travailing prayer was experienced in the Great Awakening of colonial New England and promoted in the Second Great Awakening of antebellum America, exhibiting attributes observable in periods throughout Church history. In this study, twelve of these characteristics are arranged in categories as a tool for detailed analysis of Edwards and Finney in regard to their theology and practice of travailing prayer. Chapter I of the project sets out this trait matrix as a methodology for comparative research.

Looking at Edwards and Finney through lenses of historical theology and Christian spirituality requires some context-setting, which is provided in Chapter II (along with timelines for chronological reference). Chapters III and IV give voice to what Edwards and Finney believed and experienced of travailing prayer across the twelve-point spectrum of its features, with Chapter V interpreting findings from the comparison of the two. Appendices provide extended excerpts from Edwards and Finney, along with two other illustrations of travailing prayer, one ancient and one contemporary.

Exploring how travailing prayer has been the expression of spiritual desperation in a discernible pattern of preparedness for Christian revival is the focus of this project. With Church historians tending to concentrate on particular revivals or their key leaders, this study addresses the need for research designed to synthesize comparative, historical insights into prayer and revival broadly, and the connections between them.
Date of Award23 Jun 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorNigel A D Scotland (Supervisor), Howard Snyder (Supervisor), Richard H Peskett (Supervisor) & John Corrie (Supervisor)

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